Wednesday 17th September 2014,
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Mystery Dungeon – Adventure Time Review

Joseph Leiber January 21, 2013 Adventure Time, Featured, T.V. Shows No Comments
Adventure Time Mystery Dungeon

A schizophrenic elemental king, a bored worm, a mini-elephant with attitude, a robot with some serious daddy issues and a lemon I can hardly even begin to describe: I never saw this ensemble piece coming. Adventure Time is no stranger to character-pieces, such as the recent BMO noire, a charming bit with a fire-wolf cub and a snowvgolem not too long ago, and the now-classic I Remember You two-character reveal. The show isn’t afraid to go without its main duo (Jake the dog and Finn the human [if you don't know who they are, I can guarantee you that you had no idea what was going on in this episode {but you probably already knew that}]), but it hasn’t experimented with cross-universe chemistry quite this ambitiously yet, with the arguable exceptions of the Graybles. But it does, and it does so in a way only Pendleton Ward could conceive.

I get pretty hyperbolic about this show a lot (see my last three reviews), but for real. The concept of this ep is killer. It begins with five characters thrown in a room as randomly to them as it is to us. They wake up there with no idea why they are even interacting with each other, in the same way that show begins for us with no justification for why they are in an ep together. They just are. These are the kinds of things Ward just kind of does, the impulsive magic that makes this show what it is. I can half imagine that he drew five character names out of a hat and then decided how they should work together. This is brilliant for two reasons: A) Their presence together is justified to themselves individually just as it is to us, as viewers, and B) Bill Watterson once said of his comic Calvin and Hobbes that he just drew pictures of his characters and watched as they did things. They came alive. The Ice King, the Earl of Lemongrab, Shelby, Tree Trunks, Neptr: They’re all so alive that all they have to do is be in the same room, and the magic just happens.

Adventure Time ImageYou probably forgot that Neptr thinks that he is the Ice King’s son. That’s okay, so did the Ice King. You’re not reminded of this till well into Mystery Dungeon. You also probably didn’t know that Lemongrab has a photographic memory, although you probably wouldn’t really be surprised about anything to do with Lemongrab (spoiler: he may also be a cannibal of sorts). The point is that these characters are super disparate, who, with the exception of Neptr and the Ice King, have ever really interacted before,but they all wake up together. The pieces come together as the show progresses, revealing that each character has a very specific part to play in the dungeon-level challenges that await them videogame-style, and, though this is somewhat trite and the 11-minute format leaves not quite enough space for each trial to be truly fleshed out, the suspense behind the slow reveal is perfect. Someone knows what’s going on, either the Ice King or the psycho-lemon, but both of them are totes bonkers and there’s no telling what either of them are up to.

This isn’t the first time that Adventure Time has gone dungeon-style either, but this is a pretty severe variation on a theme, a warping of tradition that stretches the dungeon motif even further from its source material while still honoring its roots: The dungeon is a mystery, not an end goal that the characters pursue, but, thematically, a challenge that is forced upon the characters. Now, while mystery challenge rooms are pretty standard fare (See: Saw. ahem.), this episode takes the strict dungeon level video game theme and subverts it back on itself, twists it to its limit, and then straightens it back out, playing with your perception of gaming tropes and then manipulating them to its own ends. Now, while this isn’t the most deliberate example of Adventure Time blatantly subverting everything D&D/videogame/fantasy, and the dungeon is perhaps what we perceive it to be after all, it is a pretty friggin cool instance of offhand motif appropriation that illustrates the fact that every move in Adventure Time is layered with a playful flaunting of any and every norm, and in doing so, mashes the most colorful characters together, runs them through the wringer, and manages to flesh out key components of each of them.

Except Shelby. He’s still bored.

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Joseph Leiber

Joseph Leiber

Joseph Leiber is the totally asymptotic dudester who wrote the article you just read. He also writes unlimited articles about some wild stuff that would really make you say "Like what?" like movies, music, video games, and even cartoons. Following him on facebook (/leibermovies) and Twitter (@leiber_movies) is basically the best thing you can do with your life.

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